Is Liberal Caucus Discipline Going to Pot?

A B.C. pot farmer tends to his plants in Miracle Valley this spring. (Photo by John Lehmann)A B.C. pot farmer tends to his plants in Miracle Valley this spring. (Photo by John Lehmann)George Baker is a Liberal Senator from Newfoundland blessed with the gift of oratory. Mischievous but serious about the work he does, Senator Baker is making life difficult for his leader, Michael Ignatieff. He is pushing amendments to a Conservative tough-on-crime bill aimed at drug traffickers.

Elected Liberals support the bill. Indeed, it passed through the House of Commons but its ride through the Senate chamber has not been as smooth. And that is because of Liberal senators, namely Mr. Baker.

The Senate is to vote on this legislation – Bill C-15 – later this afternoon; it is not clear how it will go although the Liberals do have a slight majority right now.

Senator Baker’s issue is with the mandatory minimum sentences in the original bill. He argued yesterday in a speech in the Red Chamber that they “take the discretion away from the judge in extreme cases. … We should not take away the discretion from the judge and place it in the hands of the Crown prosecutor.”

He also used Barack Obama’s reminiscences of his past drug use to back up his point, suggesting that the U.S. President, as a university student, could have landed himself in jail with mandatory minimum sentences.

Reading passages from President Obama’s biography, Senator Baker had to explain to his colleagues that “blow” meant cocaine and “reefer” meant marijuana and noted that the author now resides in the White House.

“It makes one wonder,” he said. And it makes one wonder where this could leave Mr. Ignatieff if the amendments to remove the mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of growing fewer than 200 marijuana plants pass.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has said the Liberal Leader “should lean” on his Senators to pass the original bill.

But you can’t whip these Senators. Again, Mr. Ignatieff’s hold on his caucus will be in question.

– Article from .

How many marijuana plants make a grow-op? Vancouver police speak out

by Josh Wingrove, Globe & Mail

On the eve of a looming Senate vote on a series of controversial amendments to Bill C-15, which targets drug offenders by creating mandatory minimum sentences, a major police force has weighed into the fray.

The Senate amendments include the removal of a six-month mandatory minimum for offenders caught with 200 or fewer marijuana plants, as well as the exemption of aboriginal offenders from minimums.

It was the 200-and-under exemption that has raised the ire of the Vancouver Police Department. The force released a statement Tuesday afternoon, in advance of a Senate vote scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, criticizing the proposal that a smaller number of plants would be exempt from mandatory minimums.

Inspector Brad Desmarais, leader of the VPD’s anti-gang and drug section, said the VPD “cannot support that amendment” and is anticipating a proliferation of grow-ops specifically designed to hold 200 or fewer plants so as to avoid a mandatory minimum.

Grow-operations are dangerous, regardless of their size, he said.

“It doesn’t matter if there is a wiring malfunction in a 200 plant grow or in a 2,000 plant grow – houses still burn down, people could die and property will be destroyed. The only difference is there will be more [albeit smaller]grows,” Insp. Desmarais said in his statement.

The VPD statement echoed the sentiment of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who has said he is “very disappointed” with the changes. Speaking to local press, Manitoba’s attorney general has also come out against the Senate changes.

But Senator Joan Fraser, chair of the committee that passed the amendments to Bill C-15 last Thursday, dismissed the VPD statement. The removal of a mandatory minimum is not akin to the decriminalization of holding that amount of plants, she said. Rather, it’s meant to prevent the system from unduly sweeping up small-time traffickers or people who grow marijuana, albeit illegally, for personal use.

A longer mandatory minimum of nine months would still apply to anyone caught with between five and 200 plants if one of four aggravating factors – such as endangering the health of a child or causing a public safety hazard, as suggested by Insp. Desmarais’ vision of a grow-op fire – are met.

“The removal of the mandatory minimum does not mean it suddenly becomes legal to grow 199, or indeed five, marijuana plants. It’s still an offence, and judges would still be required, if the offence is proved, to apply an appropriate sentence,” Ms. Fraser said in an interview. “I really do believe that it’s quite wrong to suggest that we’re letting people get away with criminal activity here.”

The bill, which amends the existing Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, introduces a number of minimums and is meant for “serious drug offences.” Ms. Fraser, who is among the Liberals forming a majority in the Senate, said the bill, introduced by the governing Conservatives, wasn’t meant to create mandatory jail-time for minor offences.

Even if there are no aggravating factors, judges will still be free to determine a sentence to anyone caught with 200 or fewer plants.

The House of Commons has already passed Bill C-15. The new amendments, if approved Wednesday, would then go back to the Commons for approval. If the House refused the Senate’s suggestions, precedent suggests the appointed senators would then approve the bill as the House wished, though the Senate is constitutionally permitted to dig in its heels on their amendments.

Among the other changes are an exemption for aboriginals from the minimums, as well as a tweak requiring a mandatory minimum of one year in the case of a person who has had a previous drug conviction within the past decade that led to jail time of at least one year.

It also added a second review of the mandatory minimums, which are a controversial tool. While the initial House bill called for a review and cost-benefit analysis of minimums within the first two years of the bill’s passage, the Senate’s amendments call for a second review to take place within five years.

The Senate amendments also say the courts need not impose the mandatory minimum if another sanction is “reasonable” and available, or if the mandatory minimum would be “excessively harsh because of the offender’s circumstances.”

The changes came after the Senate committee heard testimony from several people, including Mr. Nicholson.

– Article from Globe & Mail.